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Insurance clock still ticking

If this year’s wacky spring weather decides to throw another curveball—like a late March hurricane—you could get a late pass on your health insurance enrollment deadline.

But barring an earthquake, hurricane or medical emergency, consumers have only until March 31 to enroll in the health insurance marketplace.

With that deadline looming, the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services sent out a list of special circumstances that will allow late enrollments to be accepted. Those include emergencies and errors created by the government website or by insurance brokers and navigators.

The CMS also announced that anyone “in line” either by phone or over the Internet on March 31 will be allowed to enroll late.

“We are not going to shut the door on people who want coverage, who tried to get it but who were unable to do so through no fault of their own,” said Julie Bataille, director of the CMS Office of Communications.

During a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Bataille would not give specifics on how the agency would verify the special circumstances, saying only that “most people are honest” when filling out official government forms.

The new guidelines came out as the Affordable Care Act’s website and call centers have been dealing with high demand. On Tuesday, 1.2 million people visited health, said Kurt DelBene, senior advisor to the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

On Monday and Tuesday, the insurance enrollment call centers received more than 500,000 calls, he said.

Local health care navigators also are seeing a greater demand for services as the deadline approaches. To get in touch with a local navigator, call 540/741-2541 or 540/374-5023.

Federal marketplace insurance is available to anyone who does not have affordable insurance available through their job or a family member’s job. Those with incomes that fall between 100 and 400 percent of the federal poverty line—between $11,490 and $45,690 for an individual and $23,550 and $94,200 for a family of four—are eligible for subsidies to help pay for monthly insurance premiums.

While the open enrollment period for marketplace coverage began Oct. 1, the initial rollout of was disastrous, with technical glitches preventing people from signing up for insurance plans. When news broke this week that the enrollment deadline was being extended under certain circumstances, opponents of the Affordable Care Act took the opportunity to criticize the law.

“We need a health care system that works for everyone, that helps the insured get better and more affordable care, and that helps the uninsured have better options that work,” Rep. Eric Cantor, R–Va., said in a statement posted online on Wednesday.

Through the end of February, 102,000 Virginians had signed up for marketplace coverage, with about 4.24 million doing so nationwide. March enrollment numbers have not yet been released.

Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973


To find out about available health insurance plans and their costs, contact a federally trained navigator:

Heather Trascapoulos, who works out of Mary Washington Hospital: 540/741-2541. Or stop by her office, in Patient Access, adjacent to Mary Washington Hospital’s atrium.

Bill Botts, who works for ENROLL Virginia: 540/374-5023, or 500 Lafayette Boulevard, Suite 140 in Fredericksburg.